Thoughts on Basic Safety and Survival

Most of us who enjoy spending time in the great outdoors whether hunting, fishing, camping or simply going for a long hike will spend a fair amount of time preparing for an outing. Choosing a location, gathering and maintaining equipment, deciding on timing and duration, talking with other enthusiasts-all of these things have a place in the foreground of our thought process when we begin planning.

By contrast, very few of us-even those who engage in our respective activities solo as I often do-take even one minute to think about the things we should take along from a survival standpoint in case something should go wrong. Now, I’m not talking about the extreme mountaineer here, but the average sportsman out for the day or maybe a weekend.

Let me give you a scenario.

You’ve decided to spend the afternoon fly fishing the upper reaches of a stream your buddy told you was alive with nice size brook trout the previous weekend. When your wife left to go shopping with her mother earlier in the day you told her you’d probably be going fishing, but at that point you hadn’t decided exactly where.

You park your truck in the dirt turn-off on the side of the back road running alongside the stream, slip on your waders and vest, grab your rod and a couple of fly boxes and walk the 1/4 mile up the road to where the stream arcs away into the woods. 30 minutes later you’ve made your way to the pool your buddy told you about and you’re making your first casts.

The fishing that afternoon is fantastic. You land dozens of nice brookies and 5 of the best ones are hanging from your stringer as the shadows start to lengthen and you begin making your way back towards the road. About 20 yards into the woods your wader-clad right foot slips on a moss covered rock and you start to go down.

An hour later you gradually become aware that you’re lying on your back with a king-sized headache. It’s nearly dark and when you go to move you feel excruciating pain in your right ankle and your stomach rolls over. After a few minutes you manage to sit up and pull your cell phone from you shirt pocket only to see the icon “no service” on the screen.

Far fetched? Probably. But there are litanies of minor mishaps that can happen when you’re in a remote area alone and some of them have the possibility of translating into a big problem if you’re not properly prepared. If the aforementioned scenario happened to you and you were unable to make it back to your vehicle under your own power would you survive until help eventually arrived? Most likely, but your chances of coming through a situation of this nature with the least amount of physical and mental trauma greatly increase if you give some thought to safety and survival each time you head out.

First and foremost, if you are planning a solo outing-no matter how short you think it well be-let someone know exactly where you will be going. If plans change midstream do your best to notify them. If something does really go wrong this will help cut down the amount of time it takes for someone to find you.

Additionally, there are two items you should always be sure to have with you-water and some means of starting a fire. Both seem like no-brainers but you would be surprised how many of us neglect to have these basic items with us even though they are crucial if you suddenly find yourself caught in a survival situation.

Of course, a bottle of water will only last so long, but even that will be better than nothing. In my opinion a hydration bladder is the best way of carrying a decent amount of water with you. If you don’t have one already do some research to decide on one that best suits your particular needs and purchase it.

As for fire starters forget matches or a lighter. Both can be nearly useless at times. Instead, I would recommend purchasing one of the many magnesium fire starters on the market today. These are similar to the old flint and steel but are much easier to use and produce a very high temperature spark. I am partial to the light my fire firestarter available online from REI or any number of other sources for about $12. This is a 1 3/4″ magnesium stick with a striker on a lanyard. It is easily carried and when combined with a couple of chips off of a firestarter block which can be kept in a small Ziploc-type bag you should be able to get a fire going in almost any conditions, even with damp wood.

These few considerations don’t seem like much, but they could spare you the ordeal of being stuck in the woods for a prolonged period of time and possibly becoming dehydrated, hypothermic or worse. Certainly there are many more precautions we could all take, but if you do nothing else at least employ these few basic safety measures. Hopefully you’ll never need to use them for your own survival.